"When I was in high school I had a low rider. It was a brand new, white Honda Civic Ex, dropped, with a loud muffler, and a loud stereo. It was clean, and I was on top of the world. I felt like a celebrity. If you would have asked me then, I would have told you that that was the most fun I’d ever have. Like most seventeen year olds, I was wrong about a great many things. I’m a little older now, and not prone to the same pitfalls that riddled my teenage years, but I will once again unequivocally announce that the last two years are going to be the best years of my life.
Most anyone who would be reading this blog knows that I haven’t always taken the straightest path. I’ve fallen a few times. To say that Elizabeth and I sat down and made the choice to have me stay home with Oliver would be a lie. I wasn’t doing well at school, and graduation seemed to be getting further away. So, out of necessity, I stayed home with Oliver, worked a couple of nights a week at the bookstore, and tried to support my family in every way that wasn’t financial. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a plan that worked. We ate, laughed, and flourished as a family. I’ve started a new job now, and I love it, but I wanted to take a few minutes to remember what it was like to be a stay at home parent.
Most days at our house start with poop. Oliver almost always fills his diaper in the night, so one of us gets up and immediately changes him. He doesn’t get terrible diaper rashes, but they come when we don’t get to the dirty diaper fast enough. Diaper changing starts the day fast, and with not much room for anything else. So, the first thing you should know about my two years with Oliver is that I didn’t shower much. Maybe 3 times a week. It bothered me sometimes, but mostly it didn’t matter. After poop comes play. Our little bundle of joy is a morning person. His most energetic, focused play comes right when he wakes up. I would get my coffee, sit down and watch him. You can’t do this at 4 in the afternoon; he’s not really an afternoon baby. But between 6:30 and 8:30 you can watch him explore. These were the times that I felt fully appreciative of this experience. It’s also on one of these days that I realized that I wouldn’t change places with anyone in the world. We all fantasize about being someone else, for me it’s always Michael Jordan or Gertrude Stein, but after these relatively quiet mornings, I’m sure that my favorite thing to be is Oliver’s dad. I wouldn’t exchange it for money, genius, France, or the ability to do a 360 degrees dunk. Although the dunk would be second.
Then the fear sets in. Elizabeth has gone to work. We waved to her from our dog slobber stained window, cried, and set about our day. Oliver is an active child. He likes to move, and he likes to be outside. This is great, but if I didn’t provide activities or excitement, he’d turn on me quick. Boredom is his most unlikeable state of being. He’s horrible at being bored. At the beginning it was harder. He couldn’t walk, so most parks were above his level. He was also taking two naps a day, so there was a pretty short window between when we could leave, and when we had to be back for eating and sleeping. Every once in a while we went to the nice park in our neighborhood that has only a few drug dealers stationed there, and we walked Town Lake sometimes, but my day almost always included a trip to some store. Grocery stores are an Oliver favorite, he thinks that everyone is there just to wave at him, and sometimes it seemed like he was right. We walked slowly up and down the aisle, talking about Mac & Cheese, and getting our miniscule assortment of six items. We didn’t want to get too much, because then we couldn’t come back tomorrow. It wasn’t efficient, but it was.
After he got a little older, we lost a nap and ventured into Austin. The Children’s Museum was a hot spot, BookPeople was a must when Miss Staci was singing, and we battled our fare share of peacocks, but the place we visited most was the Science and Nature Center. It had all the characteristics we cherished most: outside and inside areas, shade, water, animals, and dirt. Not to mention, it’s free. The part I love the most about the center is the back trail. If you go to the owl exhibit and keep walking south, you’ll come to a fence, usually open, with a fifteen inch drop-off onto a trail. The trail is completely shaded and serene. There’s almost never anyone else there. We would walk about a quarter mile (probably less) in and come upon a dry creek bed. This bed provided rocks for me to sit on and rocks for Oliver to throw. We’d sit there for an hour or so, drink some water, and practice throwing small rocks at big rocks. I tried to take pictures, but they never came out the way I saw the place in my head.
We’d get home, and it’d be time for lunch and a nap. Nap time hasn’t changed much since he was an infant. We cuddle, we read stories, and we sing a song or two. I’ve been at my new job for three weeks now, and I can’t tell you how much I miss putting him down for his nap. He used to read two stories, now he reads three, and is begging for four. We’ll probably move onto longer stories in place of the fourth, but I feel silly complaining about the length of story time. Oliver Finds His Way, Charlie Parker Played Bebop, Art & Max, and Good Dog, Carl are some of my favorites, but I highly recommend The Tin Forest for those prone to sentimentality, like me. After stories, we give the dogs a kiss and a hug, and move to the rocking chair. I used to sing him the ABC’s because it was the only song I was sure I could remember when I was exhausted, and he seemed to like it. Over the last year I’ve been singing him the theme song to Cheers. He and I both like the song, and it’s turned into a duet. Now that he’s a little older, he doesn’t fall asleep in my arms, which was sad, but it’s been replaced with a big hug and kiss. He grabs his bedmates, Pete the Cat, Grover, and a rubber football, and goes to sleep.
Post nap is Oliver’s toughest time, and I found myself constantly looking to the clock to see when my lovely wife would be home. It was sometimes too hot to go out, and I found myself with no energy to battle him into cloths, into the car, out into the world, and back again in time for dinner. So, we spent afternoons at the house. This meant one thing: Dance Party! I would turn the music up way too loud and we would bounce off the walls until we were too tired to do anything but fall down. I’m sure the neighbors were curious about all those strange sounds coming from my house, but sometimes you just gotta be loud. Some of the favorite selections were Mumford & Sons, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, The Beatles, and Kanye West. But when we wanted to get really loud, and I mean REALLY LOUD, we’d choose Miles Davis, Arcade Fire, or The Tiny Tin Hearts. Lately I’ve been digging through Chuck’s (Elizabeth’s Dad) old records and we’ve been playing a couple of those every day. He’s split between Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens as the most requested. We’ll continue the debates on Saturdays and Sundays.
Elizabeth told me a month ago that I should take the time to enjoy my last few days as a stay at home parent and I tried. But it’s something that no matter how hard you try to take it in completely, it eludes you. The experience can’t be recreated, and it is unequaled by anything I’ve ever done. If you want to get my dad talking about the past, there’s only one way to do it, get his little sister Linda to start the conversation. I remember one particular trip to Mt Charleston with the family. Aunt Linda got my dad talking about something, and it came around to how he got drafted, and how he left school. At the time it was not the plan he had in mind, but without the mistakes, he wouldn’t have become the father and husband he’s become. He said something to the car, but I’ll take it as advice straight to me, “Some of my biggest mistakes have been my best decisions.” I didn’t choose to be a stay at home parent, and it was a necessity built on my mistakes, but it’s the best time I’ll ever have, and I’m grateful to my wife for the sacrifices she’s made, and I’m thankful to Oliver for noticing buses."